A powerful and extraordinary group of people is meeting in São Paulo: peasant women from 80 nations are attending the Women’s Assembly, prior to the IV International Conference of Via Campesina, to be held in Itaici, São Paulo, 14-19 June. This, the second women’s assembly of peasant and indigenous women, is meeting to discuss current social and political issues. The event was inaugurated on the evening of Friday, 11 June with a ceremony that demonstrated the women’s vision of the international situation and that united traditions and art forms from the whole world. Women from South, Central and North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East shared their experiences and aims. In an open and democratic process, they discussed their struggle for land, healthy food and dignified living conditions. Amidst the colourful banners of their organisations, they exhibited their products and seeds, and told of their distant but terribly similar experiences. Alt hough their stories were of discrimination and violence, the faces of these women were smiling in recognition of the understanding and compassion of all those present, conveyed thanks to the efforts of the army of translators. Among dozens of protagonists, each one speaking a different language or accent, was Imelda Lacandazo, who spoke about the daily reality experienced by women workers in the rice fields of the Philippines:
"The women of Asia, especially the peasant women, are also actively participating in the struggle to promote sustainable agriculture, because we want land reform without poison. Through our work in the International Rice Research Institute based in Laguna, we know that a lot of peasant women are suffering from sickness, like skin diseases, blood cancer, kidney failure and some have already died as a direct result of the effects of pesticides used in the rice fields. So I think right now, we should call on all the women’s organisations to organise, we must unite our organisations with all sectors like youth, indigenous peoples, women and all farmers and farm workers in order to promote a genuine land reform programme, promote food sovereignty and ban GMOs and then we must unite ; unite together in action !"
The construction of this network of rural women began in 1997 with the first Meeting of Latin American Women, where delegates committed themselves to building a network of Latin American organisations. In 1999, in Seattle, during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, women from the whole world made their first declaration, in which they condemned the neoliberal system. Further meetings were held in Spain, France, Bolivia and Cancun, Mexico.
Via Campesina is an international movement formed by peasant organisations of small and medium farmers, agricultural workers, women and indigenous communities from 80 countries in Asia, Africa, America and Europe. The movement was founded in 1992, when peasant leaders from South, Central and North America met in Managua, Nicaragua, at the Congress of the National Farmers Union (UNAG). In May 1993, the I Via Campesina Conference was held in Mons, Belgium. Delegates formally founded Via Campesina as an international organisation and defined its first strategic guidelines and structures. The Via Campesina’s main objectives are to develop solidarity and diversity among organisations of small farmers; promote equitable and just social relations; look after the land; secure food sovereignty; promote sustainable agriculture; and work for equality for small and medium farmers. Via Campesina is organised in eight regions: Europe, Northeast and Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Am erica, South America, North America and Africa.